Joint response from MOM, Workforce Singapore (WSG) and Singapore Business Federation (SBF)
Coverage of trainees and interns under the Employment Act (EA)
1. The EA covers employees who are engaged by a company under a contract of service. Interns who have signed a contract of service with their employers would therefore be covered under the EA. Students who are undergoing internships as part of their academic course requirements in schools are not covered by the EA.
2. Trainees under the SGUnited Traineeship Programme are engaged by the host organisations or companies under a training agreement. There is no employment relationship between the host organisation and the trainee, and therefore, the trainee would not be covered under the EA. This is clearly set out on the Workforce Singapore’s website.
3. While the SGUnited trainees are not covered under the EA, those who encounter issues with their host organisations should report them to the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), WSG’s programme partner. For each case, SBF will get in touch with both the trainee and host organisation to investigate the situation. Where there is no wrongdoing on the part of the host organisation, SBF will attempt to resolve the issues through mediation so that both the host organisation and the trainee can come to a mutually agreeable resolution, and continue to benefit from the programme. For cases involving discrimination or employment malpractices, SBF will seek the assistance of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and/or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) to intervene and take the necessary enforcement actions. Where the case involves breaches of the terms and conditions of the SGUnited Traineeships Programme, SBF will review and investigate the allegation. SBF will not hesitate to take further action together with MOM and WSG against the host organisation, including rescinding approvals and clawing back any grants disbursed in serious cases of breaches or malpractices.
Requirements imposed on the host organisation
4. As part of their obligations with the SBF, host organisations are required to pay the monthly training allowance as stipulated in the in the training agreement. If host organisations do not adhere to these obligations, SBF is authorised to withhold the disbursement of grants to them.
5. Trainees are allowed to leave the traineeships at any point in time (e.g. such as to take on a full-time role elsewhere), as long as they provide sufficient notice to the host organisation, as stipulated in their training agreement.
Safeguarding well-being of trainees
6. There are also other safeguards in place to ensure the well-being of trainees, so that they have a meaningful experience.
7. Firstly, each application is scrutinised by the SBF to ensure that host companies structure their traineeships appropriately with clear development plans. SBF also assists companies to review and improve their proposals, especially for applications that are incomplete or lacking in detail. This ensures that the traineeship experience is a positive and meaningful one.
8. Before each trainee commences on the traineeship, both the trainee and the host organisation are required to sign a traineeship agreement, which also includes the training development plan, so that there is clear agreement between both parties on the outcomes to be achieved from the traineeship. Every host organisation is then required to update SBF on the trainees’ progress. This will be done by checking against the development plan that was approved by SBF for the respective traineeship. Trainees will also have to sign off on the progress report before SBF disburses the training allowance to the company.
Case of ‘Michael’
9. We are aware of the dispute between ‘Michael’ and his host organisation. Michael had accepted a 12-month traineeship programme as a teacher in a tuition centre. Around two months into the traineeship, he notified the company of his intention to leave the programme to accept a permanent position. The company was unwilling to accept this as it was concerned about filling the vacancy.
10. Since 2 December 2020, SBF had actively mediated the disputes between ‘Michael’ and the host organisation. ‘Michael’ has since ended his traineeship and received his full allowance. WSG has also rescinded the approval for the host organisation to offer new traineeships and attachments, as well as barred it from future participation in all WSG Programmes, as the facts gathered show that the host organisation had not acted in good faith by stopping the trainee from leaving the programme. This is in direct contradiction of the spirit of the traineeship as trainees should be allowed to leave the programme as long as they provide sufficient notice.